Can Camels Die Of Dehydration?

Despite being some of the toughest animals in the world, camels can die of dehydration. Like other mammals, if they lose enough water, camels will pass away. Camels can withstand dehydration of over 35% of their weight in water. In non-desert mammals, losses greater than 15% are fatal.

Camels are known for their legendary endurance in hot desert environments where very little water is available. It is almost natural to ask – can camels die of dehydration?

Dehydration in camels happens when they use more water than they take in; their body does not have enough fluids to function properly. And if they don’t replace lost fluids, camels get dehydrated. 

Dehydration can cause extreme thirst, fatigue, organ failure, and death. In nature, camels will lose 2-5% of their body weight in water per day.

Here’s what happens in dehydrated camels, how their behavior changes, and how they manage to stay hydrated without drinking any water.

can camels die of dehydration

What Happens When A Camel Is Dehydrated?

When a camel gets dehydrated, it will reduce its metabolic rate, and try to save as much water as possible. A dehydrated camel will move less, eat sparingly, urinate very little, and use fat from the hump as a water supply.

Under extreme dehydration and heat stress, camels become less active, yawn frequently, and lose their appetite. Scientists examining camel behavior noticed that they eat around 35% less compound food and 76.6% less wheat straw. This corresponds to a decrease in their basal metabolism. [1

Another group of scientists recorded that after 3 days without water, dehydrated camels ate only around 0.44 lbs (200 g) of food, compared to 9 lbs (4 kg) they usually eat. Eventually, camels stopped eating at all. The animals were kept in a room with an air temperature of 116.6-118.4 °F (47-48 °C) and relative humidity of only 20%. They managed to survive without problems.

A fully hydrated camel has small fluctuations in its body temperature of only 35.6 °F (2 °C). In dehydrated camels, these variations go between 43 °F (6.2 °C) and 46.4 °F (8 °C). This is all done to sweat less and save more water.

When dehydrated, a camel will slightly increase its breathing rate. Between 10 and 15% of total water loss comes from respiration.

When there is no water available, a camel will oxidize fats from its hump, and turn them into energy and water. It uses these fluids as a water supply which allows the animal to survive.

limp Bactrian camel hump
When no food is available for too long, a camel’s hump will fall to the side

How Long Can Camels Go Without Water?

How long camels can survive without water depends on the air temperature, food consumed, weight carried, movement speed, and the camels’ physical conditions. 

During the winter, when the temperature is lower, a camel can go 30-40 days without drinking water. In summer, a camel can survive being dehydrated for about 17 days.

Camels are also famous for their ability to drink absurd amounts of water. [2

After water deprivation and losing around 20% of their body weight in water, camels can drink enough water to restore that lost weight within ten minutes.

A camel that lost around 147 lbs (67 kg), can consume enough water in one go to restore almost 145 lbs (66 kg) of its body weight. 

How Do Camels Not Get Dehydrated?

Camels have several adaptations that help them lose less water and not get dehydrated: thick coat stops heat from getting to the skin, camels thermoregulate their body temperature, long nasal passages prevent water loss when breathing, and they tend to sweat less.

A big advantage for the “ships of the desert” is their thick fur. It might seem silly to have a thick coat during hot weather, but the fur provides good insulation and prevents heat from moving inwards. Studies have shown that if a camel is shorn, it will lose about 50% more water.

We already mentioned how camels increase and decrease their body temperature throughout the day. Such variations allow a camel weighing 1300 pounds (600 kg) to save up to 1.6 gallons (6 liters) of water per day. 

Most creatures lose water through breathing and sweating. Camels rarely sweat and they wait until their body temperature reaches some 105°F (40.7°C) to do so. 

Also, when a camel is dehydrated, its nostrils will cool the exhaled air during the night, and extract vapor from that exhaled air, similar to how a dehumidifier works. This helps the animal save more water.

Also, to stop becoming even more dehydrated, camels will produce extremely concentrated urine and very dry feces. A dehydrated camel will have around 30% less water in its feces than a hydrated one. 

Their blood cells and humps also help with saving water. Because of their oval shape, the blood cells do not stick to one another when a camel is dehydrated. This allows the animal to function properly.

We have a full article on all of the adaptations camels developed to conserve water in extreme heat, you can read it here.

How Do Camels Die?

Besides dehydration, camels also die from malnutrition, different lung diseases, rabies, infections, parasites, and similar. Diarrhea can lead to extreme loss of water in camels and cause death. Also, camels can get eaten by predators.

Several studies on the mortality causes of camels discovered that illnesses of the digestive system were the main cause of camel deaths (between 48 and 63%). As we mentioned, diarrhea can cause additional water loss which can prove fatal in extreme desert conditions.

Next, respiratory system failure was responsible for about 17% of camel deaths, while nervous and cardiovascular system diseases were responsible for about 9% in total (about 4% each). [3]

It is important to note here that, if you ever encounter an intact and bloated camel carcass in the desert, do not touch it, as it might explode.

TL;DR – Can Camels Die Of Dehydration?

Despite being able to survive over 30% of weight loss in water, camels can die of dehydration. A dehydrated camel will notably become less active and refuse to eat food, and in extreme cases of dehydration, will pass away. 

We hope you enjoyed our short article answering the question “can camels die of dehydration”.


References

[1] Tibary, Ahmed, and Khalid El Allali. “Dromedary camel: A model of heat resistant livestock animal.” Theriogenology 154 (2020): 203-211.

[2] Schmidt-Nielsen, Bodil, et al. “Water balance of the camel.” American Journal of Physiology-Legacy Content 185.1 (1956): 185-194.

[3] Mehta, S. C., et al. “Analysis of causes of death in camel.” (2003).

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